The opening montage looked like a movie trailer, starring the Top 4, featuring Jamie Foxx as "The Mentor." Host Ryan Seacrest entered through the back of the auditorium again, greeting the fans.
Mike and Crystal await results
The program kicked off with a performance by the season three winner, Fantasia, who sang the first single from her new album, "Bittersweet." She wore a gold, sparkly jacket with black pants and was in her old form, although it bothered me a bit that her eyes were hidden by her hair. [VIDEO OF FANTASIA]
This time, instead of sitting on the couch, the contestants were on the tulip stools onstage. Ryan introduced the Ford music video, done to "Put the Message in the Box." This week's video featured the Top 4 driving around the world, switching seats (though Mike was always drivng), and accumulating clothing keepsakes along the way. [FORD COMMERCIAL]
Afterward, Ryan reminded viewers that the Top 3 will get a trip back home with special honors, concerts, and more. We were treated to a montage of previous finalists on their hometown trips. [VIDEO OF HOMETOWN TRIPS]
Ryan asked everyone what they would look forward to seeing or doing if they're one of the three to make the hometown trip. Michael Lynche was looking forward to seeing his puppy and experiencing the beach air. Crystal wanted to see her family and play a gig with Frankie May, her bass player. Lee just wanted to thank his supporters in person. Casey wanted to see all his friends and family, along with his puppy dogs. He added, "Hearing a bunch of people say 'y'all' would be nice."
Next, Ryan revealed that the families of the top four were seated on the couch, waiting for the results. Oh, so that's why the Top 4 were on the tulip stools! As they were deemed safe, they would join their families on the couch.
Before reading the results, Ryan made it clear that "these results are in no particular order." I assume that's because the producers arranged things for maximum drama. After having everyone stand, Ryan recapped the duet performances by Michael Lynche and Casey James, and by Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox. He announced, "After the nationwide vote, Casey is safe and in the top three." [CASEY DECLARED SAFE]
Another returning finalist, Chris Daughtry, performed with his rock band, Daughtry. The song was called "September" and was a bit more mellow than his previous work. He wore a simple black button-down, looking every bit the rocker. As he performed, I thought about how this was a reminder that you don't have to win American Idol to do well afterward. He had been cut at this stage in the competition, for those who don't remember. [VIDEO OF DAUGHTRY]
Ryan asked Chris to give advice to the contestants. Chris told him, "Stay hungry and don't compromise the music that you love. Stick with what's true to you."
Then it was back to results. Ryan talked about Mike's performance, asking Kara what she's looking for. She said he should do something unexpected. Then to Lee, who differed from the judges, saying he didn't think he sang a karaoke version of his song. Then Crystal, and assertions from Simon that the judges were impressed.
Ryan said, "After the nationwide vote, Mike, hang tight. Lee -- friends, Lee is headed back to Chicago. He's in the Top three." Screams of joy went up from the preteens in the audience. [LEE DECLARED SAFE]
Bon Jovi took the stage after the break, sounding kind of country on their song, "Superman Tonight." This was another somewhat mellow rock song. Bon Jovi is aging well, wearing black a button-down shirt and going for a more natural look with his hair. [VIDEO OF BON JOVI]
Ryan asked the band how they do this year after year? "We've crossed generations now at this point," Jon Bon Jovi points out. "The harder we work, the luckier we get."
Then, finally, we were back with Mike and Crystal (who were likely not the real bottom two, since Ryan had made it clear the results were in no particular order). First, he asked Lee and Casey what they thought about being safe. Lee said they're "thinking about those guys up there." He said he feels for anybody who's ever been on that side (until now, he and Crystal were the only one left who'd never felt what that was like). Casey was just overwhelmed and was getting ready to sing, assuming he was going home.
Ryan gave the results: "The person who is in the top three after the nationwide vote is Crystal." She looked relieved, and Big Mike gave her a big hug. She gave him the phone signal, meaning "call me." Their supporters on the couches exchanged handshakes. His wife, though, was all broken up (poor thing). In fact, she got so upset that their baby started to cry, too.
Calling him "one of the most intense guys we've ever had on the TV show," Ryan asked Mike what he thought of his experiences on the show. Mike said, "It's been incredible. I think, 'I wasn't even supposed to be here.' Thank God the judges saved me. It's all good."
His good-bye montage ends with him snuggling his baby.
With time to kill, Ryan asks the judges to give advice to Mike. Kara tells him, "Do not stop. Keep going. Go out and sing your heart out every night." For his swan song, he sings the song from Free Willy again, then goes down to the judges' table and hugs all of them. Finally, he comes up onstage and hugs his fellow contestants. Since his mike was still on, we could hear Lee saying, "I love you, dude" and Mike telling the other finalists, "Never worry, never worry." As the credits rolled, he took his little baby and kissed her, trying to sooth her. She was crying, probably because of all the noise, combined with her mother's tears. [MIKE ELIMINATED]
Mike was first eliminated five weeks ago but benefitted from the judges' save and was allowed to continue his Idol journey. In the past several weeks, he has strived to up his game, to be more current. In many ways, he's been more consistent than Casey and Lee. So why is he screwing up my Idol pool choices by failing to make the top three?
I think Big Mike was a little too big for this show. Like Danny Gokey last year, he has alienated members of his audience who read his confidence as cockiness. The fact that, early in the competition, he answered judges' criticism by showing off his muscles or even playfully threatening Simon probably didn't help. His vocals haven't changed as much as his attitude over the past five weeks. Instead of preening and showing off, he has appeared more serious about the show and taken the judges' criticism with more grace.
While a lot of people are pointing to the fact that teen girls are more likely to have crushes on Casey or Lee, I don't think that's what cost Mike his chance at the Top 3. If that were the case, how could Ruben Studdard, the velvet teddy bear, have won in season 2? Why would Elliott Yamin, who looks like the guy next door, have made it into the top three in season 5? I don't think Mike was eliminated because his looks didn't appeal to teen voters. Rather, I think that he alienated too many potential audience members early on, and now that every vote counts, he only had his loyal voting bloc rooting for him. Other fans had already moved on.
I sincerely hope, though, that Big Mike takes some inspiration from Chris Daughtry and continues his career in the music industry. With his voice, and with a newfound appreciation for the twists and turns of show business, he's likely to do well.
Every vote counts, so don't alienate potential voters.